Make mine an electric

After 349 vehicles covered over 1.5 million miles, participants of an electric vehicle trial showed real enthusiasm for plug-in cars, with 80 per cent viewing them as a feasible mobility option

The Technology Strategy Board (TSB) launched the Ultra Low Carbon Vehicle (ULCV) demonstrator programme in 2008 as the first UK-wide major trial in its journey to support the development of technologies and markets for ULCVs. The programme was jointly funded by the TSB and the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV). Over 1.5 million miles were driven and over 51,000 charging events were recorded from the 349 vehicles during the programme. Information from the vehicles and the drivers were brought together to give a robust and thorough account of the usage patterns and perceptions towards the electric vehicles (EVs) during the first 12 months of vehicle deployment.

The aims of the programme were to expose the vehicles to multiple drivers and drive cycles; to monitor the performance of the vehicles in real world scenarios; to understand customer perception and concerns around the vehicles; and to understand perception and concerns around the vehicles’ charging infrastructure.
The vehicle and driver information were collected and analysed by Cenex and Oxford Brookes University on behalf of the TSB and OLEV. Questionnaires and interviews were conducted with over 350 drivers at the pre‑trial and three-month trial stage. The drivers, vehicles and their usage patterns were selected by the individual consortia for the purposes of their own projects. These were typically made up of OEMs, energy suppliers, universities and local authorities.

No compromise
At the outset of this year’s ULCV programme, drivers made it clear they did not want to compromise their daily routine and commonly stated that the car needed to fit their lives rather than vice versa. However, drivers showed immediate Primary Adaption as the EV was seen as simple to drive, and unfamiliar components such as regenerative breaking were adapted to within the first trip.
Before the trial, drivers did not anticipate any significant problems with charging their EV, or any safety issues. Drivers’ actual experiences showed that charging was even more straightforward than they had initially imagined. Drivers had a preference for charging vehicles as opposed to going to petrol stations to refuel. This is likely to be due to drivers valuing the freedom of not being tied to expensive fuel prices and the convenience of charging at home. However, a very high proportion of drivers remained convinced that public charging sites were essential.

Adapting easily
Drivers were very comfortable in adapting to use an electrically-charged vehicle in their daily lives. The average trip length achieved in the EVs was 5.1 miles and the average daily mileage was 21.4 miles. The EVs were mainly used in the working day with 71.5 per cent of trips commencing between 8am and 6pm.
Little range anxiety was experienced during the trial because the vast majority of drivers kept comfortably within the capable range of EVs. 75 per cent of daily use consumed less than 50 per cent of the battery capacity, demonstrating that testers used the cars primarily for short distances as a second vehicle. But the massive disparity between charge available and charge used at the beginning of the study suggests the EVs provided far better ‘charge economy’ than they initially expected.
Participants found that the best policy was to be flexible with their approach: “You’ve got to adapt your driving to the car. If you’re only driving a short distance you can drive quite fast and get there. But if you’re going any long distance you’ve got to be aware that you have to slow down,” said one participant. This demonstrates how well the drivers were able to judge the abilities of these vehicles, rapidly developing Secondary Adaptation. Drivers became aware of the interconnected nature of driving style, regenerative braking, route selection, state of charge, and the information fed back from the displays. Drivers who achieved this could drive with a much lower safety buffer. Just as a conventionally-powered car’s MPG will vary according to driving style, so too will the range of an electric vehicle.

High performers
The vehicles being tested in the study had to live up to the expectations and perceptions of the drivers, as well as overcome some general stereotypes about electric cars. Old performance stereotypes associated with previous generation EVs were successfully countered and the vehicles were seen as fun to drive, smooth and rated very highly on acceleration. Over a third of drivers stated that their EV had superior performance to their normal car. “The acceleration is amazing, and in fact, if you’ve got a scale of 1 to 10 for acceleration I’d score it a 10,” stated one participant.

The drivers’ perceptions of an EV’s flexibility and their ease of use also increased over the first three months.
Drivers stated a preference to recharging over refuelling conventional vehicles, especially as they became more comfortable with driving longer distances on a charge. Drivers preferred the ability to ‘fuel’ their cars on a daily basis at home, a feature unique to electronic vehicles and 97 per cent opted to use the home charge feature. But drivers remained convinced that public charging facilities would be essential to overcome one of the main perceptions of EVs – that they lack sufficient range for long journeys and commutes. A 230 mile range was deemed ideal to meet these requirements, in tandem with a proliferation of public charging sites. It is interesting to note, however, that among private users the proportion who felt a public charging infrastructure was essential actually fell significantly from 87 per cent to 71 per cent after three months. Private drivers, both in the study and in the general population, have relatively routine day-to-day journey requirements and it seems that many drivers discovered home charging was sufficient.

A welcome silence
The idea that drivers prefer the noise of a car engine over a silent electric vehicle was conclusively invalid. At the beginning of the study, just over half of all testers missed the engine noise of a regular car. However, after three months, 80 per cent said they liked the quietness of electric vehicles. This reflects the fact that drivers found the lack of noise relaxing and were better able to focus on pedestrians at lower speeds.
Overall testers found one of the most surprising aspects of the test was just how similar the EVs felt to traditional vehicles. One driver summed it up: “It has felt just like driving a normal car. If I’d driven it and nobody had told me it was electric, I wouldn’t have thought any different, which is good. It just felt like a normal automatic.”
It is therefore unsurprising that drivers in the study recommend these vehicles. 80 per cent of trial participants could imagine replacing their ICE with an EV and 50 per cent intended to do so. What’s more, a massive 91 per cent would recommend an EV to other drivers.
Uptake of Electric Vehicles has been slower than some expected with real and perceived barriers including consumer concern over range anxiety and limited public infrastructure. However this report proves that EVs are extremely viable in daily life. Government and industry players are committed to sustained effort to support what is expected to be a gradual uptake of plug-in vehicles in the market, running in parallel with the increased use of plug-in capability, as a means of offering consumers fuel cost savings and improved environmental performance.
Likewise, vehicle recharging infrastructure is continually growing. The UK national Plugged-in Places Scheme has already helped install over 5,000 public charge points in key areas including business parks, tourist attractions and leisure centres with the scheme being extended as well as being complemented by new national measures.

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